Celtic Cross Spread Explained: What Does it Mean?

The Celtic Cross spread is said to be one of the most fundamental tarot spreads. It is taught in most introductory classes and can be found in many “How to Read Tarot” books. This spread can be used for general readings or for specific questions that the Seeker has.

There are three common formations for the Celtic Cross that are explained below. Each one offers the reader explanations for the cards. However, the placements vary.

How to Begin

If completing a reading for yourself, you simply need to shuffle the cards until you feel that you’ve done an adequate job or until you feel “done.” This feeling is different for everyone and takes some time to get used to. A good rule of thumb is to shuffle the cards, thinking of a particular problem or situation. This will allow your conscious mind to hone in on what the most important piece.

Some readers fan the cards out before them on a table (or the floor) and pick from a line. This method is beneficial if you feel your mind was scattered while you were shuffling the cards to begin with. However, it can be overwhelming as a standard deck has 78 cards. Fanning the cards also requires perhaps more space than the Reader has. For example, reading at a dining room table versus a coffee shop table.

Another method is to shuffle the cards and pick from the top of the deck. If using this method, the Reader would lay the cards out in the numbered order of the spread outline. Choosing cards from the top of the deck is faster and more efficient for space. 

Placing the cards in their numbered order depends on which version of the spread the Reader chooses to use. There are three common versions of the Celtic Cross spread and each of the layouts is explained in detail below.

Celtic Cross (Gray)

This version of the Celtic Cross was popularized by Priscilla Pardridge using the pseudonym of Eden Gray. During her lifetime, Gray wrote some of the most influential tarot divination books. This version of the spread can be found in her book Mastering the Tarot (1971). This spread is different from both the Waite and Thoth methods explained further down.

Gray’s outline is as follows:

  1. This is the heart of the matter; this is the Seeker’s present self. This card is the first placed in this spread. Cards 3-6 are placed around this card in a (somewhat) circle.
  2. Placed horizontal across Card 1, this card is the challenges and obstacles blocking the Reader’s path. The significance to it being placed horizontal is to show the physical relationship of the cards and the obstacles it represents. 
  3. Card 3 is related to the “root of the problem” or the foundations that the Seeker currently stands on. This card is placed below Card 1.
  4. Similar to a 3 card spread where the left indicates the “past”, so too does Card 4 when placed in this version of the Celtic Cross. Placed to the left of Card 1, Card 4 is an indicator of past influences that have brought the Seeker to where they are.
  5. Card 5 is used to illustrated the aspirations of the Seeker; what they hope to achieve or gain. In a reversed position however, it can denote speculation or reservation that the Seeker has. Card 5 is placed directly above Card 1.
  6. This card indicates the immediate future for the Seeker, either positive or negative. Card 6 is placed to the right of Card 1.
  7. Card 7, placed to the right of Card 4, indicates the Seeker’s view of him or herself. It can indicate insecurities, hidden talents, or secret desires.
  8. This card is how the Seeker interacts in their environment or how they exist in their environment.
  9. Card 9 illustrates the Seeker’s hopes or fears. The use of reversed cards in a spread will illustrate fears, whereas upright cards (usually) indicate positive.
  10. Lastly, Card 10 indicates the Seeker’s probable outcome. This could be positive or negative. Probable outcome cards can be tricky as the future is a fickle thing; any decision made between the time of the reading, and its end, could drastically change the outcome.

The first six cards in this spread are clustered around each other, creating the “cross” shape. Card 7-10 are placed to the right of the shape and are laid out from bottom to top. At first glance, it may look like there are two separate spreads being laid out, however, by following the numbers assigned to each card, the Reader is able to follow the linkage between them. 

Celtic Cross (Waite)

The Rider-Waite spread is most commonly used in associated with the Rider-Waite deck; however, it can be used with any existing tarot deck. Waite’s version of the Celtic Cross is based on the Catholic sign of the cross (“head, heart, left, right”).

Similar to the Gray layout, this version of the Celtic Cross has ten cards with 7 through 10 on the right side of the “cross” shape. However, the main difference between the two is the layout in which the first six cards are placed. Card 1 is in the center, Card 2 is placed horizontally across it, but Cards 3-6 are in a different order. Card 3 is placed above Card 1, and Card 4 is placed below Card 1. Card 5 is placed to the right of Card 1, and Card 6 is placed to the left of Card 1.

  1. This is the heart of the matter; this is the Seeker’s present self. This card is the first placed in this spread.
  2. Card 2 is the challenges and obstacles faced by the Seeker.
  3. This card, when placed, illustrates the aspirations of the Seeker. If the card is revealed to be in the reversed position, it could be an indication of speculation or reservation from the Seeker. Card 3 is placed directly above Card 1.
  4. Card 4, placed directly below Card 1, indicates the foundation or “root” for the Seeker’s query. 
  5. Card 5, which is placed to the right of Card 1, indicates the goals or aspirations of the Seeker.
  6. The last card in the “cross” section of this spread is placed on the left of Card 1 and indicates the Seeker’s past.
  7. Card 7, placed to the right of Card 4, indicates the Seeker’s view of him or herself. It can indicate insecurities, hidden talents, or secret desires.
  8. This card is how the Seeker interacts in their environment or how they exist in their environment. It is placed to the right of Card 5 as well, above Card 7.
  9. Card 9, similar to the Gray method, illustrates the Seeker’s hopes or fears. The use of reversed cards in a spread will illustrate fears, whereas upright cards (usually) indicate positive.
  10. Lastly, Card 10 indicates the Seeker’s probable outcome. This could be positive or negative.

Celtic Cross (Thoth)

celtic thoth

This spread was popularized by Aleister Crowley. This is arguably the most common of the three spreads as Cards 3-6 are placed in clockwise order around Card 1 and Card 2 and are therefore easier to remember. Unlike the other two spreads, Card 3 in this deck illustrates the Seeker’s destiny or their higher purpose. Often Seekers are too focused on what is directly in front of them and are not yet aware of their higher purpose.

  1. Card 1, similar to the other versions of this spread, indicates the heart of the matter; this card is the basis to which all other cards in this spread connect.
  2. Card 2 indicates the obstacles placed before the Seeker. These could be placed by someone or could be unforeseen things the Seeker did not predict. This card is placed horizontally across Card 1.
  3. As previously mentioned, this card relates to the Seeker’s destiny. It could help the Reader change their way of thinking or open their eyes to something far more important. This card is placed directly above Card 1.
  4. Card 4 illustrates the immediate future for the Seeker with their question or within their current situation. This card is placed to the right of Card 1.
  5. Card 5 is the root of the problem or the foundation on which it is built. This could also be the foundation on which the Seeker currently stands. This card is placed below Card 1.
  6. Past influences are what is illustrated within this card. These influences are what led the Seeker to their current point in time. This card is placed to the left of Card 1.
  7. Like the two versions of this spread previously mentioned, Card 7 indicates the Seeker’s view of him or herself. This view could be positive or negative, as indicated by the card. It is important to note that in some cases, why the Seeker has those views will appear in this card too. Card 7 is placed to the right of Card 5.
  8. Card 8 is the Seeker’s place within their environment. What is meant by this is how they feel in the place that relates to their question (within the family, work, social sphere, etc.). Card 8 is placed above Card 7.
  9. Card 9 illustrates the hopes and fears of the Seeker. Again, a reversed card typically indicates fears, though some upright cards can illustrate them as well.
  10. Lastly, we have Card 10. Like the Gray and Waite spreads, this card shows the most probable outcome the Seeker will experience, based on the other cards in this spread.

Differences and Similarities

Gray and Waite

While all three spreads are similar, Waite and Gray’s spreads have the most in common. The meanings of the cards are identical, however the placement (therefore numbering) is what sets them apart.

For Gray’s method:

  • Card 3: Roots/foundation
  • Card 4: Past
  • Card 5: Aspirations/Speculations
  • Card 6: Future

Whereas for the Waite reading:

  • Card 3: Aspirations/Speculations
  • Card 4: Roots/foundation
  • Card 5: Future
  • Card 6: Past

As illustrated above, the ordering is different but the meanings for each card placed remains the same.

With all 3 versions (Gray, Waite, and Thoth) Cards 7 through 10 are identical and are placed in the same order, regardless of which method used.

Thoth

This spread stands out the most simply because it has something that the other two don’t: a card about destiny. In many descriptions of this spread, the card is explained by relating it to the Seeker’s destiny and the path they should be on. However, another reading of the card, while still keeping with the idea of destiny, discusses the awareness of the Seeker to their greater purpose or higher calling. It is important to note that some Seeker’s will turn up their nose at the word “destiny”, therefore having another way to read Card 3 in the spread is necessary.

Which Is Better?

There is no one answer to this question. It is this practitioner’s experience that whichever the Reader is most comfortable with is the one they should use. Each version of the spread can be used to answer general inquiries or specific questions, meaning that nothing is lost by using one over the other.

However, the Thoth version of this spread, for this Reader, makes the most logical sense in the placement of cards and is therefore easier to remember. By moving in a clockwise motion of placing the cards (12, 3, 6, 9) it is one less thing the reader needs to try and remember. Since the Celtic Cross is one of the most rudimentary tarot spreads, it is important that learners to the craft become familiar with this spread. But because of the sheer number of cards required for a reading using the Celtic Cross, it can be overwhelming. Choosing a spread that makes some kind of orderly sense, could be beneficial for the tarot practitioner.

Conclusion

In Benebell Wen’s book, Holistic Tarot (2015), she says that “[i]t might almost be laughable for someone to call him- or herself a tarot practitioner and not know one variation of the Celtic Cross” (p. 336). While this practitioner disagrees with her wording, it is important to point out that the Celtic Cross is one of the most fundamental tarot spreads, second only the basic 3-card spread for Past, Present, and Future readings. The inclusion of the Celtic Cross in most tarot reading books (introductory or not) makes it a staple for every practitioner, regardless of systematic belief or training. 

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